296 21 Åhus,
- +46 (0) 44 247656
20km SE of Kristianstad
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Rafael Sundblom, Douglas Braiser, Tommy Nordström, Pierre Fulke and Adam Mednickson
Kristianstad has long traditions as a military town, so it is not surprising to learn that its golf club started out with a nine-hole course at the Rinkaby exercise grounds south-east of town in 1924, which makes it Sweden’s fourth oldest golf club. This course is no more, however, because in 1942, the club moved a bit further south to its current location at Åhus, where it was able to acquire land for a nine-hole course, designed by Rafael Sundblom, who had designed Halmstad’s first 18 holes a few years earlier. Today, seven of these holes survive with a similar routing, namely 2-5 and 14-16, although the look of the latter three has changed a lot in recent years with the addition of water. Douglas Brasier extended the course to 18 holes in 1968 and the routing has only changed marginally since. The look of today’s Åhus Östra (East) course is the result of modifications by Tommy Nordström in the early 1990s and by former tour players Pierre Fulke and Adam Mednickson in 2016.
The region around Kristianstad is also known for its light, sandy soil and the golf club is therefore one of the few in Sweden with two courses on sand, a twelve metre thick layer according to the club. This has enabled the architects to design rumpled fairways and wildly undulating run-off areas, both of which remind the well-travelled golfer of the timeless links icons of the British Isles. Here, though, the Baltic Sea is a couple of kilometres away.
The course has a mix of open holes exposed to the wind and holes laid out among in an old tree plantation, once created to provide timber and control the sand drift. Among the trees are the course’s most well known and most difficult holes (14-16), which some find captivating and others simply too hard, at least before knowing which clubs to select to keep the ball dry. The stream alongside the right side of the 16th fairway was indeed redesigned after the 2016 refurb to make the hole more playable.
Otherwise, only two of the par 4s measure over 350 meters (385 yards) from the yellow tees, the other eight should be reachable for mere mortals without resorting to the longest clubs in the bag. However, this does not make the rest of the course a pushover. Instead, this design provides plenty of challenging tee shots, where driver is not always an obvious choice, rumpled fairways and fairway bunkers which may well present a classic half-shot penalty if the ball ends up too close to the face. Aspiring long-hitters will also note that the 1st and the 10th, reachable par 5s from the yellow tees if the prevailing wind, become par 4s for a par 70 from the white tees, another feature more common in the UK than in Sweden.
The greens are worth a special mention. Instead of being surrounded by ankle-deep rough, they tend to be protected by closely shaved, sometimes wildly undulating run-off areas, from where the errant golfer has a number of recovery options.
The three local businessmen who took over ownership of the land in 2014 when the club faced a cash crunch have been adamant that golf is their main priority. The undisclosed, but no doubt very generous budget for the 2016 rebuild, the excellent playing conditions in which it has been maintained ever since plus the fact that the clubhouse redevelopment will have to wait until last all form evidence that they intend to keep their word.
Any golfer contemplating a visit should also keep an eye on the rebuild of Åhus Västra (West), the club’s other course, which is due to start in October 2020 with the course reopening in the second half of 2021.
After renovating the course is clearly the top 3 in Sweden. Outstanding finish.
Instead of going to the UK to play heathland golf we settled for Kristianstad’s two courses, courtesy of Covid-19 quarantine requirements. Did we regret it, now that those requirements have been eased between Sweden and the UK? Not at all. In fact, I am sure Kristianstad East would not feel out of place among the upper crust of UK heathland courses.
In making that bold statement I am comparing pure golfing merits. The club makes quite a splash about being founded in 1924 but most of the East course was laid out in the late 1960s and has been thouroughly reworked twice since. There are no captivating views or other obvious eye candy, although the 14th is a very picturesque par 3 with its tee shot over the pond and the hole 14 to 16 stretch that others rave about actually felt fabricated, almost O.T.T. to me.
Instead, it is the fact that Fulke, and Nordström before him, have (a) retained Sundblom’s and Brasier’s old routing with several lovely, short but clever par 4s, so rare on Swedish courses elsewhere and (b) used the sandy soil to create landforms which you would normally only find on old links courses, yet made them feel like an organic part of the course. The feel is Ballyliffin Old rather than Ballyliffin Glashedy if you know what I mean. In fact, if I did not know, I would have guessed that the course had been built before the advent of modern machinery.
If we are serious about the comparison with the better UK heathland courses for a moment, let’s then also be critical about a few things: apart from the artificial feel of the water on the 15th and the 16th. I also feel that the mix of bunker styles is not really an asset. I would have thought that the designers could have gone for smaller bunkers with a more typical heathland style once their paymasters had decided to hand-rake instead of using machines. It might not look as racy on an overhead drone photo, but would be more interesting for the player who experiences the course at shoulder height. Also, I hope that the use of sod walls in a few large bunkers (on the 1st and 10th if my memory does not fail me) is an experiment that stops there.
Definitely top 10 in Sweden, perhaps not too far off the 3rd place they were recently (June 2020) awarded in Svensk Golf Magazine. More importantly, it is one of a small number of Swedish courses I would have no hesitation in recommending also to a well-travelled international golfer.